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NBA Finals truths
that will set you free

Page 2 columnist

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"Don't really matter about that blowout in Game 4," I said to Road Dog.

Ron Harper
Kobe Bryant, Ron Harper and the Lakers are feeling pretty good about their 3-1 lead.
We were talking about the NBA Finals between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. Or, as that stellar event is also known, Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed; or, David vs. Goliath; or, My God, Myrtle, I Didn't Realize That Some Colored Guy With Braids and Tattoos Could Lead Anybody Or Have Any Heart Or Do Anything Besides Wield A Squeegie And Be My Own Personal Nightmare.

Or, The Good Little Man and an Old-Looking African vs. The Good Big Man and Kobe ...

... well, as you can see, no matter where you're coming from, there are a lot of ways you can go with the 2001 NBA Finals; and a lot of people are choosing a way. That's good dramaturgy, art, when people find many ways to personally relate to a piece of work. This series is that rare, physical work of art.

The Lakers blew out the Sixers in Game 4, 100-86, but any team with Shaq and Kobe is going to blow you out every once in a while. That was not totally unexpected. What would be is if it happened again Friday. This Finals thing is still interesting.

"I'm feelin' you, R-Dub," Dogster said. "Everybody's saying the series is over, but you're saying the Sixers basically have the Lakers where they want them! Sixers win Game 5, because with such good teams, the team with the greatest desperation wins. So it'll be six or seven games, yo?"

"Exactamundo. And the Lakers must stick to their knitting in Game 6, else there'll be Game 7. Throw everything out then. Six, seven games, no matter how you slice it."

"What else are you thinking about the NBA Finals?" Dog asked.

"I'll tell you, Dog," I said. "Only you gotta keep it on the down-low ..."

Dog said he would, then promptly sent a transcript of what I said to the Page 2 Wrecking Crew. You see below what they've done to me.

(1) The most surprising whiner
Shaquille O'Neal
Shaq's performance has been terrific, but we can do without the crying.
Shaq, Big Aristotle turned Big Baby Bottle, accusing Mutombo of "flopping" after Game 3. Shaq, needing help from the refs, going George Karl? Sad.

Later, Shaq said it was hype, that he respected Mutombo's game. His PR people must've gotten to him. Meanwhile, Derek Fisher committed a beaut, world-class "flop" in front of Iverson, out high, in front of everybody to see, and referee Danny Crawford actually called it at end of Game 3. That was a "play on" if Earl Strom had lived to see it.

(2) What is flopping, and why is it so popular in the NBA Finals?
Flopping is the last resort of the vertically challenged. It is basically a college play, a high school play, a minor-league play. It is also called "taking the charge." Catholic high school coaches believe in it. Even the worst player can get there late, after the ball is heading to the rim.

The idea is to establish a position on the floor, which you have a right to, according to the rules, then selling a ref on the so-called fact that the guy with the basketball has basically run over you, knocking you off your space on the floor. If you find yourself flopping all over the place, every time your man beats you off the dribble, which is often, then looking up at the ref, begging for this pathetic bit of charity, then it might be time for your old butt to consider a new career (see Oakley).

Dennis Rodman was good at flopping, particularly late in his career, when he stopped being able to jump. Rodman, and many college-level players, will flop and then, when the ref makes the call their way, they'll actually get up and throw a fist and give a primal scream, like they made a play or something, like they were Alley I. and just dunked over a brace of 7-footers; it's pitiful, really. It's basically a tactic of the unathletic, and so, it's especially popular among "old dudes," and those who play like "old dudes."

Shaquille O'Neal
Dikembe Mutombo will do anything it takes to slow down the Shaq Diesel.
Ever walked on the court at the playground or the Y or the fitness center and suddenly, without warning, become "the old dude?" As in, "OK, my ankle's swole to 10 times its normal size, fellas, so I'll take the old dude over here." Well, take heart, becoming "the old dude" can happen to anybody, and will eventually happen to everybody. Even to young dudes.

We're down to the 10 best ballers in the world; even though you might be a good player, like Tyronn Lue, or Fisher, you are "the old dude" compared to Allen Iverson. And you need help. So you flop, or try to run The Answer into the long arms of Robert Horry. No shame in it, not against Alley I.

Dikembe is no flopper. He can block any shot, and one who flops is one who is saying, "I can't stop this shot attempt any other way except for this pathetic plea to the ref ..."

But that doesn't mean Mutombo is above flopping. Only he would call it "Getting Out of The Way ..."

Like Beauty, flopping is in the eye of the beholder.

(3) Most popular NBA Finals myths, part 1: Lue and Fisher are holding Iverson down
It's funny to me (but not to Alley I.) when people say, "Tyronn Lue & Derek Fisher are doing a good job defensively on Allen Iverson." No, it's the Lakers' double-teams doing it. It's Robert Horry, 6-10, Championship Veteran, flexible enough to double Alley I. on the perimeter, coming from off the ball, once Alley I. beats the ball denial of Fisher or Lue

Allen Iverson
They say Allen Iverson is being held in check, but The Answer is averaging 35.3 points per game in the Finals.
Now, "doing a good job defensively" is relative, when you're talking about Alley I. Iverson is averaging 35.3 points a game in the Finals. If not for Horry's double-teaming, and Kobe Bryant chasing occasionally, if the Lakers left Lue or Fisher on Iverson, their famous Hollywood buns would get royally toasted.

To be fair, nobody knows this better than Lue and Fisher. We are now down to the best 10 basketball players in the world. It's no shame if you're out there, but not one of them. There are the guys who win the rings -- the Shaqs, Kobes, Mutombos, Alley I.'s, the Horrys, the McKies; the complimentary guys, like Rick Fox of the Lakers; then there are the Looking Good in the Lobby guys, the guys who are fortunate -- not to be in the league, they all earned their way into the league -- but fortunate to get a ring, the Lues, and yes, the Fishers, and pretty much all of Philly's roster ...

(4) Most popular NBA Finals myths, part 2: The Lakers are much more talented
The Lakers are somewhat more talented, because they have Shaq and Kobe. And it's not like they have a complete mismatch even there, hence the lure of Philly rather than Milwaukee in the Finals vs. the Lakers. Shaq & Kobe v. Mutombo & Iverson.

Horace Grant ain't what he used to be. Whenever I see Ron Harper get up to come into the game, my own back starts to hurt.

True, Larry Brown calls the group of Kevin Ollie, Jumaine Jones, Rodney Buford, Raja Bell and Todd MacCulloch, "my summer league team," but Phil Jackson has some summer run himself sitting over there -- Lue, Fisher, Harper, Mark Madsen, Rider, other guys who will never see the light of day.

In essence, the series is Shaq and Kobe, along with Robert Horry, the Championship Veteran, vs. Mutombo and Alley I., the Defensive Player of the Year and the league MVP, along with Aaron McKie, the Injured Veteran.

Robert Horry
Robert Horry's long-range shots have been daggers in the Sixers.
(5) Sneaky fast pivotal player award
Horry. In Game 4, he helped blow the Sixers by going 3-3 from 3-land. Bailed out the Lakers in Game 3 with that 3-pointer from the corner, scoring the last seven points; also, Horry and Kobe Bryant made Alley I. change his last-second shot on a drive through the middle.

Horry's an interesting guy -- unless you're Danny Ainge, who as coach of the Phoenix Suns had a towel thrown in his face by Horry for daring to think Horry was a taller version of Kobe, and asking him to play like it. Horry is perfect on a team with other weapons, like he was with Houston in the mid-'90s, with Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam I Am, Jet and Mad Max, all three-point guns; like he is now.

Horry wound up on David Letterman after the Rockets won the title with him hitting a few 3s. Horry plays ball for, say, 15 games a year, and wins NBA titles, and ends up A Hero. He's the playing version of Phil Jackson -- good at what he does, one of the best at what he does; he's also blessed in where he does it.

What's up next for him? Stuffing a corn dog down Sixer fan and bandleader Kevin Eubanks' throat, as Jay Leno reads a newspaper clip misspelling Horry's name on "The Tonight Show"? Well ... he'd better close out with that double of Alley I. first. Or else The Little Kid will drop fiddy.

That's 50, to the Brooklyn-impaired.

(6) Where'd He Go? Award
Tyrone Hill
Philly's Tyrone Hill hasn't had many high-flying moments.
Tyrone Hill. Shot 18 percent the first three games. Maybe it was the shadow of Shaq. Maybe Hill thought Charles Oakley was still playing. Hill has had personal difficulties, dire illness in his family, his father. But you can bet his father wouldn't want him to play bad because he was sick.

Actually, playing in the Run can take your mind off your troubles. It should be a good outlet. You should play better under those circumstances. Buster Douglass beat Mike Tyson a day after his mother died. Hill's play over the next few games might be the key to whether it goes six or seven. It might help if he wouldn't seem so sneaky -- like calling his teammate Raja Bell "kind of a pretty boy." Bell is the Sixers' minor-league find, a fellow who can at least face up to Kobe, give him a check, halfway guard him.

Why would Hill offer a dig against his own teammate? Earth to Ty: You might want to hit a shot first.

(7) Why Ray Allen was right
The numbers say NBC's audience is nearly 20 percent higher than for last year's Finals, which, as far as I know, nobody remembers, except that the Lakers won, and Larry Bird was involved in it somehow, only not playing.

Ray Allen, the Milwaukee Bucks' All-World 2 guard, said the league would rather see the Sixers, with A.I., Mutombo and Larry Brown, against the Lakers, rather than see Milwaukee.

No offense to Ray Allen, who is All-World, after all; but other than you, Ray, what's to want to see with the Buck-passers? It wasn't just David Stern and/or NBC head Dick Ebersol who wanted the Sixers vs. the Lakers; apparently, it was everybody, outside of Milwaukeeans and blood relatives of the Bucks' players, coaches and staff, who, put together, don't make up .10 of a Neilsen ratings point. Even if they did, the Bucks would've been swept so fast they wouldn't have had time to say the refs cheated.

Ray Allen
Check the TV ratings: Maybe Ray-Ray was right.
Which is pretty damned fast.

Be nice to see Ray Allen, hoop version of Henry Aaron, in an NBA Finals. Just ... not this year.

Loved ya in "He Got Game" though, Ray-Ray. You & that hot La-La. You wanted her and La-La Land?

Special bonus golf observation: Why Tiger won't win the Open
(1) Tiger will be depressed because the Sixers are taking His Majesty's Lakers to six games.

(2) The law of averages. Tiger is the House, but the High Rollers have to be allowed to win sometimes, every once in a while, just to keep them coming back to the casino. In the long run, as we who believe in bettin' know, nobody beats the House.

(3) Who says Tiger won't win the 2001 U.S. Open? (Psst. It was Scott Van Pelt who said that, Tiger. Not me).

(4) You don't want to get God on your bad side, do you?

(5) Earl Woods' deal with Beelzebub runs out.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."

set you free 


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